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Pandora's Breeches: Women,Science and Power in the Enlightenment Paperback – 4 Mar 2004

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Pimlico; paperback / softback edition (4 Mar. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844130827
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844130825
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.1 x 23.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,069,151 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"Excellent... Fascinating in its details, Pandora's Breeches is also groundbreaking in the way it reframes the history of science" (Guardian)

"This illustrates different ways in which women have contributed powerfully to the growth of science...[with] fluent style and a determined attempt to make the history of science readily understood as a social construct" (Times Higher Education Supplement)

"Cool in appraisal, balanced in argument and, in my book, an essential read" (Graeme Fife BBC History Magazine)

Book Description

An original and highly readable exploration of the role of women in the history of science.

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Format: Paperback
"Had God intended Women merely as a finer sort of cattle, he would not have made them reasonable", wrote Batshua Makin in 1673, advocating educational rights for women. Still, even in the age of reason women were confined to a role in the background.

This book gives nine delightful biographies of women who, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, refused to be mere shadows of men. The most impressive is Émilie du Châtelet, who spoke six languages at twelve and would become the lover of Voltaire, under whose name she would publish an authorative book on Newtons newly discovered laws of mechanics.

This book is too sketchy to provide a detailed biography of any of the women involved, but it does make a fine overview of forgotten women of the Enlightenment.
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This book examines the roles women played in science in the period of about 1600 till 1830 by a clever use of woman-man pairs. The pairs acting as bookends at the beginning and end of the book are authors (non- scientists, as it happens) with fictional characters: Francis Bacon with ‘Lady Philosophy’ and Mary Shelley with Frankenstein. The eight pairs giving rise to a chapter each in between are women corresponding with influential scholars, women who translate science either into other languages or for broader audiences and women who assist their men (husbands, brothers) in doing their research at home. Women are also discussed in their role as patrons of scholars but not to the extent that they get their own chapter. It is telling that Queen Christina of Sweden, who invited René Descartes to Stockholm (where he died), has to make way for his correspondent Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia to make up a pair.

I really liked the idea of re-examining historical evidence such as pictures and surviving letters and learning about women I hadn’t heard much about before (especially apt on Ada Lovelace Day). The book is great at debunking heroic versions of scientific history, which annoy me as I see science as such a collaborative effort at its core.

Society was markedly different in the 200 odd years described and more unapologetically patriarchal from what it is today. But I was wondering whether there is still something to learn from these women that is recognizable today? Maybe it is the difference in the women’s own attitude. Both Elisabetha Hevelius and Marie Paulze Lavoisier appear to have determined their own destinies, by choosing established scientists as spouses and carving out their own niches alongside them. In contrast Caroline Herschel “seemed determined to be miserable” and “colluded in her downtrodden state”. After all, our own actions and attitudes are all we have control over.
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